She Has a Name

Warning: This review may contain spoilers.

Human trafficking and child prostitution are crimes that need to operate in the figurative shadows of local corruption and ignorance abroad to keep functioning. In that regard, this play is a powerful dramatization that brings the exploitation into a harsh light you cannot ignore.

The story focuses on one such enslaved prostitute named 18 (Evelyn Chew) who is the focus of an idealistic undercover investigator, Jason (Carl Kennedy) and his worldly handler, Marta (Glenda Warkentin), who are determine to expose the trade. However, mistakes are made as emotions and practical ideals collide, driving them all into danger and tragedy.

She Has A Name bracingly illustrates the above crimes in all their horror as they suck the respectable into a despicable complicity. As you learn how deep the depravity can go, your outrage will be equalled only by your nausea. That exposé is complemented by the parallel story of how Jason and Marta’s struggle demands so much personal strength that they don’t necessarily have. The resulting drama starts on a relatively low key, but gradually builds until it crescendos into a searing climax that will make you understand the truth of this vice crime.

If this play merely focused on this straightforward plot, then it would have been just a straightforward crime melodrama. However, this production strives for far more as a surreal Greek chorus gives it a deeper thematic significance. With that device in play, Chew is unforgettably able to illuminate 18’s spiritual oppression as her naive self-worth, memories and her personal identity are mercilessly destroyed with a foul emotional sadism. For instance, for all we see 18 enduring, we never know her name as she tries to function in her oppressive and tiny world. Through that perspective, the real human cost of 18’s plight and others like her becomes more heartbreakingly clear than any simple verbal exposition can convey.

To parallel the war against this evil, Carl Kennedy enlivens his role with enthralling emotional resonance as Jason’s overworked compassion eats at his professionalism and family life that Alysa van Haastert makes agonizingly clear as Jason’s wife, Ali. When that pressure explodes at the worst possible time, Kennedy makes it work beautifully as an idealist over his head even while Ali strengthens him with her own quiet heroism.

Although Kennedy is slightly hampered with his secondary role as the pimp with its unfortunate racial connotations, Warkentin has no such burden. As Marta, Warkentin achieves a delicate determined grace futilely struggling against a practiced villainy that Sienna Howell-Holden makes frighteningly clear as the brothel madam, Mamma. Their interaction makes gives the larger conflict a sinister tone as all the elements of 18’s oppression comes together for an inescapable trap.

Furthermore, the simple stagecraft gives that story a special atmosphere of its own as the torn background picture of 18’s family reinforces what has been lost. Beyond that, it’s amazing how the flowing white robes the actresses wear as the Voices grant the chorus an otherworldly mystique.

With excellent acting and inspired props, you will experience an enlightening and challenging play that illustrates an evil whose opposition will be no easy walk, but still a necessary one for all of us.